How many of us have not woken at 3am and lay fiddling with the ticking on the counterpane beside our snoring spouses as we wonder if, for years and years, we've been Doing It All Wrong? Could it be that years of trial and error, hours of furtive glances at bookshop sex manuals, decades of knowing laughter at risque jokes about frottage and fellatio have left us still on the nursery slopes of sack-artistry? And how awful would it be to have your shortcomings displayed on a Shepperton sound stage, while a pop-eyed, bearded recluse shouts "Cut!" through a megaphone?
So only a heartless swine could not sympathise with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. This most glamorous of filmic couples are heading for the courts again, this time against an American magazine called The Star, who floated the wild allegation that Stanley Kubrick, the late film director, had to call in the professional services of a British husband-and-wife sex- therapist team, called Tony and Wendy Duffield, to coach the Titian-haired Oz dreamboat and her handsome spouse in how to make love convincingly on the sweat-drenched set of Kubrick's last completed movie, Eyes Wide Shut. I can't comment on the ins and outs of the case (if that's the phrase I'm groping for), but the surreal quality of this scenario appeals to the prurient in everyone.
But if you were concerned about your actors' verisimilitude, would the Duffields really be the perfect consultants to call in? They are not your run-of-the-mill sex therapists. Tony once stuck a teensy camera on the end of his membrum virile to film the invasion of Wendy's nether bits for a 1994 television documentary called The Naked Animal, in which they were filmed having sex three times a day for three weeks. (What did they talk about in between? Ointment?).
These guys are awesome in their singlemindedness. Their attitude to copulation is on a par with people who practise the cello for 14 hours a day, or get in The Guinness Book of Records for eating 92 packets of Jacobs Cream Crackers in a weekend. Just imagine the dialogue on set:
Tony: "Tom. Tom... What are you doing?"
Tom: "I was, uh, kissing her neck."
Tony: "That was hopeless. You should be squeezing the left breast with the right hand while inserting the tongue in the left ear..."
Tom: "Yeah, right, maybe in a minute or two -"
Tony: "... while simultaneously snaking your left hand across her stomach with a driving, downward motion..."
Tom: "But she has this pretty neck. I like kissing it."
Tony: (contemptuous laugh) "Necks are all very well, but there's nothing to get into. Try it again. Neck, five seconds, ear, ten seconds, squeeze breast, ten seconds, tweak nipple with thumb and index finger, say fifteen seconds max. Other hand on waistband of knickers, the middle finger..."
Nicole: "Wait a minute. I like Tom doing that to my neck. Sweetie, maybe if you wound your hand in my hair? You know how I love that."
Kubrick: "Could we get on with it, please?"
Wendy: "Nicole, if you could clamp your left hand on to Tom's groin and sort of jiggle it up and down, while simultaneously throwing your head back and shouting "Yes! Yes! Take me, Big Boy..."
Nicole: "That's not really a phrase in my vocabulary."
Wendy (irritably): "This is passion, darling. As his hand moves over your thigh, your body arches convulsively like a tigress in heat, you shake with anticipation, your hair lashes the bedpost, you cry out `Oh my Gaaahhrrd'...."
Nicole: "I, uh, don't see it in the script."
Wendy: "Forget the script, sweetheart. This is realism."
I HAVE lately become alarmingly fixated on fish. Possibly under the thrall of Charlie Dimmock, my gardener, Alexis, a youth of Albert Speer- like ambitions, has built a brick Water Feature in the, ahem, sylvan glade that is our back garden.
It's made of bricks, is round and graceful and cries out for piscine inhabitants - some snub-nosed, tawny-skinned creatures which would "slant their fins athwart the sun" as dear Wally de la Mare once had it.
At the garden centre, there were goldfish and koi carp and guppies - and some ghost carp in glowing, luminous shades of yellow and silver.
"I'll take half a dozen of those, please," I said to the man, like one buying whitebait. "What kind of pond you got?" he asked. The kind with water in it, I said. "That all?" he said. "No pump?"
I don't need a pump. I said. This is a pond, not an aquarium.
"You're gonna need a pump," he said. "Otherwise the waste builds up the nitrate levels and the fish die. Got any oxygenating weeds?"
Er, no. "You'll need some of that. And some porous clay pebbles. The fish pellets are over there, pounds 9.80 special offer. And I would suggest a sub-aqual lily..."
Why stop there? I asked sarcastically. Perhaps I could buy them a fish living room, with fish sofas, a fish standard lamp and a fish TV.
"Got a heron scarer?" he asked.
My dear chap, I said, a heron hasn't been sighted in Dulwich since the late Fifties. "They're buggers for eating pondlife. Swoop down out of nowhere. How about this one? It's pounds 199.98. Squirts water..."
Thousands of pounds later, I'm now the proud owner of a water feature with lots of green floating weed, several bubbles and four completely invisible fish in it.
The heron scarer, on the other hand, can be seen for miles around. No heron has come near the garden. It obviously works.
HERE WE go again. Are song lyrics poetry? Is Bob Keats better than Johnny Dylan? Is Yeats's line "How can we tell the dancer from the dance?" better or worse than Freddie Mercury's "Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the fandango?" The people in charge of the National Year of Reading have dedicated this month to finding out how sensitive we are to the meaning, the import, the awful majesty of pop lyrics. They asked a thousand record- buyers to nominate which bands and singers do the best words. The Beatles came out on top, followed by Abba, those giants of complex and articulate passion, but only 10 per centthought Bob Dylan could string together an effective sentiment.
"This survey shows just how much people really enjoy reading and understanding good lyrics," said Liz Attenborough, the NYR's project director, desperately looking for a point to this exercise. "There are some truly inspiring lyrics ... they can quite justifiably be described as modern poetry."
Well yes and no, Liz. I could not, with any confidence, direct my children to most modern waxings as examples of superior poetry, for fear they should encounter an Oasis song called "She's Electric" which contains the stanza: "She's got a sister / And I can't say that I've missed her / On the palm of her hand is a blister..."; or the lovely Des'ree and her by-no-means- pedestrian rhyme scheme on "Life": "I don't want to see a ghost / It's the sight that I fear most / I'd rather have a piece of toast..." (there's no mention of the Sunday roast or the Morning Post; but I'm sure they featured in early drafts); or the Limerick band The Cranberries who sing, on their new CD, "People are strange / People in danger / People are stranger / People deranged are ..."
I could, on the other hand, direct them to the lyrics of Tom Waits, the growly Beat throwback whose terrific new CD, Mule Variations, features one of his femmes fatales: "My eyes say their prayers to her / Sailors ring her bell / like a moth mistakes a light bulb / for the moon and goes to hell". But where, I wondered, does Salman Rushdie stand on the lyrics/poetry front? A writer incontrovertibly of the premier league, he's only published one poem (in Granta) but has written a vast hymn to rock'n'roll, in The Ground Beneath Her Feet, that includes the song lyrics of one Ormus Cama. They're not exactly William Blake ("I think you'll find / We're trapped in someone else's mind") but they're okay. How seriously does Rushdie take them? Brilliantly, he has it both ways. Rai, his narrator, looks at the lyrics of "Song of Everything" and says: "Which some British professor calls poetry... to me, set down on the page without their music, they seem spavined, even hamstrung."
Thus Rushdie writes lyrics which, Rai decides, are rather weak without the music, though of course, being fictional lyrics, they have no music, so in that sense they're lyric poetry... Things were a lot easier in the days before Christopher Ricks, when you could just hum "Mr Tambourine Man" without wondering if there were allusions to Browning in it.Reuse content